Have You Played 7 Wonders?

10 February 2023
It's 7 Wonders month, so we're celebrating the classic pick and pass game!

Ancient civilisations remain a fixture of popular culture because of the lasting monuments they produced at their height. And because the civilisations that built them slip away over time, leaving many of these huge engineering miracles as massive question marks of history.


So, when you’re asked which one you want to build in a modern classic drafting and building game, the opinions becomes various and detailed. While many pick the pyramids, others believe they’re overrated, preferring the Lighthouse of Alexandria as being more to their taste. Luckily, 7 Wonders is set up so that you can put this to the test and decide which of these ancient monuments is the very best.





7 Wonders is yet another masterpiece of elegant design by French designer Antoine Bauza (Hanabi, Takenoko). Rather than keeping the charismatic megafauna in the garden happy, or creating the perfect fireworks display, instead we’re building the seven wonders of the world and having their civilisations trade, build, and fight with one another.


It uses a simple – possibly even too simple for your first game – pick and pass drafting system. Players start with a hand of seven cards one is selected and place face down in front of them. They then pass the rest of their hand to the left of right, depending on which of the three ages they are in and repeat. It’s possibly too simple only in that some players tend not to trust that a game will emerge from this the first time they play it. It doesn’t take long of course, but the scepticism speaks to the way we approach gateway games like this in the modern culture of the hobby. We’re always ready for there to be something crunchy to remember – but in reality pure play can emerge from the simplest of mechanisms.


When you have your card in front of you, you play it, either by paying the cost, and slotting it above your wonder board, or paying the cost written on the wonder board to create that by slipping the card face down under it. Everything you play above the board is you building your engine up, as each card produces something you can then spend on another card – or wonder stage – in the future. While you might pay a coin for the lumberyard, or the quarry, they will then produce wood or stone for you to build the next card you want to play out. It all builds up quickly and soon, when your hand comes round, you suddenly realise you have a plan – or at least, the foundations of a plan – coming together.


But what if you don’t have the materials you need? Simply buy them from your neighbour. Pay them two coins and you can have whatever material from them to use in your project. Only from your actually adjacent player though – you can’t trade across the table in a four player game, and it does mean you keep an eye on what is going on around you. Most engine builders have a certain ‘solo together’ quality, here you’re always slyly glancing around at what people have available. If you manage to build a market, you can buy those resources from around you for half price – which is a great deal, especially when you’re throwing in the bonus of removing resources from your competitors.

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You’ll want to keep an eye on those either side of you for one final reason: war. At the end of each age everyone takes a moment to have a bit of a tussle, and work out who battered who the best. This is done by simply totting up the military points either side of you, if yours is bigger, you’re a winner, and take the bonus token for that age. If not, you get the ‘loser token’ – and have some points chipped off at the end.


At the end you count up your scores, including the bonuses you’ve managed to sneak in. For example, points for buildings of a certain colour in yours and your neighbour’s civilisations, or the most stages of your wonder you’ve built. Tot it all up and there you have it, match point Alexandria…




7 Wonders is the kind of game that is built around its flow. Players pick and pass their cards, and then play the cards they have chosen simultaneously. This makes for a fast moving game once everyone at the table falls into the rhythm of it. You very organically decide on your plan, based on the cards that that come to you, and the ones you’re not going to see for a little while as you pass them away. This is where the joyous tricky choices come in – you can always pursue your current plan of building a certain building type for a later combo, but you’ll need to make sure you don’t give your neighbour exact what they might be looking for. Yet blocking will always be partly to your detriment. There’s only so much planning that can go into choosing your card anyway, and your agenda, whatever it might be beyond ‘choosing good cards’ is a secret one that builds up over the game.


The sideways glances of 7 Wonders also make it stand out. While you’re playing against everyone around the table, it’s only your locality – the players either side of you – who will be your combatants in war and your trading partners. It’s no good someone across the table having the resources you need for your preferred move from the hand, neither is it a problem that there’s a very big army very far away. Instead, you’ll spend much of 7 Wonders with a reduced scope, considering only the ecosystem of resources you’ve got either side of you. With this you don’t want those players to suffer too much. Sitting next to a player who has failed to gain a market, which reduces costs for buying in resources from either side can seem good when you’re getting extra cash in the coffers, but less good when they’re handing over more cash in the opposite direction.


If there’s a criticism to be levelled at 7 Wonders, it’s that your wonder isn’t usually going to win you the game. Finishing it first doesn’t automatically crown you, and the extra powers allocated to these historical marvels aren’t that exciting, not compared to some of the late game special cards. It’s hardly an issue, after all, everyone has a wonder to build – not every game involving wonders has to follow Age of Empires rules.


Subscribers will be pleased to find a special card for 7 Wonders bundled in with the game, which you can add to your copy for a little extra late-game weirdness. If you don’t currently own a copy, or have one in circulation with your friends, check out our review of the newly released second edition of the game, that tidies a few things up with the layout and set up, and adds a little bling. It might be time to think about whether you prefer the Pyramids to the Colossus.


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